TELLURIDE–San Miguel County Department of Public Health and Environment director Grace Franklin issued a public health department order effective one minute after midnight Thursday, March 19 limiting “gatherings of people necessary to protect public health,” and prohibiting movements of individuals from their residences except to engage in “essential activities.”
The order commands visitors to San Miguel County to “return home immediately…by the fastest and safest available means” and orders “persons considering visiting” the county to stay away.
The goal for the county, says Franklin, is to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and to save lives.
“I have the statutory responsibility as the public health director to investigate and stop communicable diseases. Part of the issue with this disease is that it’s an upper respiratory illness,” Franklin told Complete Colorado Thursday. “Being at a higher altitude here in this entire county, if somebody’s having upper respiratory issues, they’re more likely to have critical needs. We do not have the health care facilities to be able to tend to major health illnesses, so we’re trying to prevent escalation and over-taxing our health care system capacity to protect our most vulnerable populations.”
All businesses in the county not defined as “essential businesses,” a list of which is in the order, are required to “cease all activities” except for “minimum basic operations” as defined in the 11-page order.
All travel other than “essential travel” is prohibited, and that term is likewise defined in the order.
The order says that while the county “does not have a confirmed positive case, our local medical experts believe that with medical certainty they are treating patients with the COVID-19 and that extreme medical testing limitations…is the reason for the lack of information regarding diagnosis in our community.”
Governor Polis activated the Colorado National Guard on March 11 and at a press conference Monday said he would be dispatching National Guard units to Telluride to set up a temporary testing facility.
“On Tuesday, March 17th we requested help to get more testing available to our county residents,” said Franklin. “We asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for help and the National Guard as well as some of the CDPHE employees came on Tuesday to help swab and test 100 residents for the COVID-19 virus. They were folks that exhibited symptoms that were screened and selected through the two medical centers in our county.”
“We expect to hear results this upcoming Monday, just short of a week,” Franklin continued.
San Miguel County is a rural county of some 8,200 residents scattered across 1,200 square miles, with much of the commerce focused on Telluride and its ski area. Governor Polis earlier this month ordered the state’s ski resorts closed.
Franklin said the county had gotten good cooperation from visitors who were asked to leave.
“I think we had about 1,500 folks that were around last week all together who were asked to go home,” Franklin said. “And it seems like overall folks were very responsive and understanding.”
Franklin has only been on the job for five weeks, having moved from Denver to take the job only to be immediately faced with a serious health crisis.
“Fortunately, we’ve had an emergency preparedness coordinator who started prepping I think in 2001,” Franklin said. “We have a really solid emergency management plan and because of their efforts we have medical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) as needed for now.”
But like the rest of the nation, shortages of essential PPE are looming.
“But that being said, even before this ramped up speed a couple of weeks ago our medical facilities were requesting or trying to order PPE, and when they requested let’s say 100 N95 respirators they would get 10 because there’s a shortage nationwide right now,” Franklin continued.
“Everybody needs them, so they’re not being supplied at the same rate. Luckily, we’ve had this extra cache of supplies to help fill in while waiting to get more supplies from other sources,” Franklin said. “So, although we do have the resources now, they’re limited and dwindling and we’re facing the same shortage and issues that everyone is nationwide.”
A popular spot for summer conferences and more than a dozen festivals including jazz and film festivals, Telluride is often visited by the rich and famous and Hollywood elite. Some, such as Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Costner, Amy Adams and Boulder native Jessica Biel have or have owned homes in the area.
Telluride’s economy is largely dependent on the tourist trade and the impact of the COVID-19 virus closures could seriously impact the county’s finances if they are protracted.